Thursday, April 17, 2014
By Kevin Thomas email@example.com
BOSTON - Bobby Valentine walked into the interview room before Saturday night's Red Sox game, sat down and smiled.
No tongue-in-cheek threats to punch anyone in the mouth.
No statements that he would have to clarify later.
A rare, calm moment at Fenway.
It is not a good time for Valentine, 62, who is guiding the worst Boston Red Sox team in more than a decade. He has said some perplexing things, sometimes flashing his temper over such mundane questions as his pitching rotation.
In recent interviews, Red Sox owners have praised General Manager Ben Cherington, saying they see him here for a long time. When speaking of Valentine, they say they will "evaluate" after the season.
In firing Valentine, the Red Sox will not be admitting Valentine's mistakes, but their own.
When Cherington narrowed a list of five finalists for the job last offseason, Valentine was not on his list. But when Cherington brought candidate Dale Sveum to be interviewed by ownership, they apparently were not enamored with the soft-spoken Sveum.
Valentine, who reportedly has a very good relationship with team president Larry Lucchino, was brought in for an interview, then was hired. The Red Sox said Valentine was Cherington's top choice.
In hiring Valentine, Boston seemed to be looking for a strong personality, a character who demands attention.
He also was a natural fit for the camera -- important for the Red Sox-owned New England Sports Network. A "Bobby Valentine Show" was created.
So Boston got its strong personality -- all of him.
Valentine knows baseball and is considered an excellent talent evaluator. Veteran scouts have raved about Valentine's knowledge.
But Valentine brings strong ideas about how to get things done -- his way. The Red Sox are a group effort, with boatloads of statistics, tendencies and scouting reports.
The first manager hired by this ownership group liked to do things his way, sometimes ignoring the data provided to him, which resulted in him making moves like leaving Pedro Martinez in too long in a certain 2003 playoff game.
Grady Little was fired after two seasons.
With Terry Francona, the ownership struck gold -- a leader who communicated by listening as much as speaking. Francona involved others in the decision-making process and had most of his teams running as smooth as they could be.
But after two World Series titles in the first four years, the Red Sox slipped under Francona. He became an easy scapegoat.
The spin, provided by "anonymous sources," was that the players took advantage of Francona being a "players' manager."
So the Red Sox hired Valentine. He is a man who speaks a lot. But somehow the communication at Fenway keeps breaking down.
And several times -- whether it be his description of a player or an outburst on the radio, Valentine has had to come back and clarify what he was trying to say.
When you have to constantly explain what you meant, that is not good communication.
The first real sign of trouble came in April when Valentine commented about Kevin Youkilis to a Boston television station that "I don't think he's as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason."
That is something a TV or radio commentator might say, but not Kevin Youkilis' boss.
Youkilis, who first heard of Valentine's concerns from the media -- not the manager himself -- said, "I'm more confused than anything."
There have been other examples of confusion -- coaches reportedly not talking to each other, players not knowing if they are in the lineup or not.
With all that said, Valentine was not the biggest problem for the 2012 Red Sox. A healthy team with good pitching would have been a nice start.
But is Valentine the solution for the future? With the Red Sox dealing with the adversity of this season, Valentine became a distraction, answering questions foolishly -- for example, saying "who cares," when asked why he didn't argue an umpire's call, or joking that he made a mistake with the lineup when he placed singles hitter Scott Podsednik in the No. 3 spot.
Then there was Valentine telling a radio interviewer that he was going to punch him in the mouth. Valentine said he was not serious, but it put the Red Sox PR people in damage control.
There is a possibility that Valentine comes back. You can argue that he improved both the Rangers and Mets in his second year. But those were losing teams he took over.
This was a winning Red Sox team, albeit one that has not been in the playoffs since 2009.
Now it is worse.
Bobby Valentine knows baseball, but there is little evidence he knows how to lead the Boston Red Sox.
The end of a brief era is coming.
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at: